It really has been a tale of two seasons for Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart. His season got off to a very slow start. Rumors even started to circulate that the former second overall pick was available in the trade market.
When the calendar flipped to 2018. The season for Reinhart took a 180-degree turn.
To begin the season Phil Housley wanted to try Reinhart at the center position. He was drafted in 2014 to be a center. Entering his third season in the league it seemed like a logical time to try him at his natural position.
Early on in training camp, it was evident that the position switch was not working for Reinhart. It seemed to slow down how quickly the young forward played the game and was often caught out of position.
As we got into the regular season we also saw the extra responsibility take away from Reinhart’s offensive production. By the middle of November, he was moved back to his old position on the right wing, but the damage was already done.
His confidence was shot and confidence is a big thing in the game of hockey. The 22-year-old talked about how important confidence is after a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the middle of February.
“Once a couple start going in for you, it’s just the little things, you’re hanging onto the puck a little bit more, you’re feet are getting under you, so it’s just the little things like that that I’m finding earlier in a game that I’m able to kind of build off night in and night out,” said Reinhart.
New Year, New Me
Everything started to change on New Year’s Day in the Winter Classic against the New York Rangers. He entered that game on a 16 game goal drought and only had one point over that stretch.
Early in the second period, Reinhart got the Sabres on the board with a rebound goal in his office, right in front of the net. He snapped the drought and began to find his game again.
In the 38 games leading up to the Winter Classic, he had five goals and 11 points. Scoring at a rate of 0.30 points per game. He was playing well below his career average over the first two seasons of 0.56 points per game.
Since January 1, he’s registered 10 goals and 23 points in 27 games. That’s a 0.85 point per game click.
Prior to January 1, he was on pace for 11 goals and 24 points on the season. With the new found life in his game. Reinhart is currently on pace for 19 goals and 43 points. That shakes out to 0.52 points per game pace. Closer to his career average.
The knock on Reinhart this season is he got fat statistically on the top-ranked power play in the NHL last season. This is a true statement. Last season 57 percent of his points and 65 percent of his goals came when his team was not at even strength.
He’s getting away from that label this season. Reinhart already has more even-strength goals (7) than last season. He’s scored 53 percent of his goals and points on the power play this season.
Reinhart is an effective player with the man advantage because of where he sets himself up offensively. He’s always around the net and not afraid to go to the dirty areas. He can make those quick plays in tight windows and finishes around the net. He doesn’t possess the shot that is going to be an NHL goalie on a consistent basis at this point in career.
This graphic gives you an idea of where Reinhart makes his money:
While it’s good to have a player who is productive at even strength since the majority of games are played that way. An effective power play piece that can also produce at even strength is a good player to have around.
The Vancouver native is also shedding the myth that he can only be successful on a line with Jack Eichel. In the 10 games, the star center has missed. Reinhart has scored four goals and produced seven points. He has a chemistry with Eichel but has the ability to create offense on his own.
Reinhart is going to be a restricted free agent this summer. General manager Jason Botterill has a decision to make. If he continues his pace Reinhart will eclipse his goal total from last season, but fall short of the 47 points he produced in the 2016-17 campaign.
A bridge contract may make sense for Reinhart, but we don’t see that very often in today’s NHL. He’s not going to break the bank this summer for the Sabres if they go long-term or a bridge deal.
To get an idea of the potential cost. You can look at comparable contracts for him like those handed out to Tyler Johnson, Alex Galchenyuk and Nazem Kadri.
Johnson signed a five-year $35 million contract ($5 million cap hit) with the Tampa Bay Lightning last summer.
Galchenyuk signed a three-year $14.7 million contract ($4.9 million cap hit) last July with the Montreal Canadiens.
Kadri signed a six-year $27 million deal ($4.5 million cap hit) in April of 2016.
Reinhart never had the big season like any of the aforementioned players. It’s not inconceivable to get a deal done with him at roughly a $4 million per season cap hit.
The Sabres could also go down the avenue of using Reinhart as a trade asset to change the makeup of the team. With the Sabres being pretty short on players that can produce between 40-50 points on a consistent basis. It may be a wise choice to hang onto a forward of Reinhart’s ilk.